Plimmerton may have developed and gentrified beyond recognition, but the Ngati Toa settlement of Hongoeka certainly hasn't. Just a few hundred metres north of Plimmerton proper, along the coastal road, this tiny bay with its untouched native bush, windswept beach - and without postal deliveries - is another world.
This is a place where the past informs the present. Rewind nearly two centuries to 1822, when the Ngati Toa iwi was forced from its Waikato land by neighbouring tribes. Led by the mighty warrior and chief Te Rauparaha, the Ngati Toa people migrated south, conquering other iwi until they controlled the southern part of the North Island and the northern part of the South Island. From this huge domain, the Hongoeka pa is the last pocket of land of any size that remains after the Pakeha forced the sale of the tribe's land, following the Treaty of Waitangi, by kidnapping Te Rauparaha and holding him to ransom.
Since then, it's remained a tiny but strong Ngati Toa community, a sister to Takapuwahia further south in the Porirua Harbour. The land along the coast and up one ridge all belongs to the iwi, but the residential area is just one small strip of land hugging the bay and stretching back in long, narrow blocks to the bottom of bush-clad hills. The homes are modest, mainly weatherboard buildings, with the odd extension here and there, and very few fences between them.
The 100-or-so residents (they don't keep count) from five generations of Ngati Toa include authors, artists, weavers, carvers, musicians, teachers, archivists and cultural advisers. Many commute into Porirua and Wellington city, and a few work from Hongoeka Marae, where a stunning carved entranceway ushers residents and guests into hui, tangi, weddings, monthly meetings, school visits and other community events.
Those who've lived here for only 30 or 40 years joke they're short-term, because many of the kaumatua have spent most - or even all - of their lives here. They grew up with the beach as the centre of their world, making boats out of corrugated iron, bows and arrows out of lancewood, fishing and being fed at any of the homes. They followed what was then a goat track around the rocky coast and past a hermit's tin hut to Big Bay to picnic, camp, fish and play in the bush. Now in their 70s, they still gather their own kaimoana, know every curve of the bay and finger of land, finish each other's sentences and watch a new generation of tamariki playing on the beach.
It's difficult to buy a house in Hongoeka. The sections have private titles, but the community likes to keep them in the whanau, or failing that to sell them to others from their whakapapa. It's so that Hongoeka, this place with so much history and meaning, doesn't slip away from them. It's their turangawaewae, their place to stand.